The job title in tech companies of Product Manager has become common place. 5 years ago in the UK few companies adopted this dedicated function. Unfortunately there is serious confusion surrounding what product managers should do. This impacts on company performance as marketing, sales, engineering, leadership and customers all have different expectations. I regularly read articles by so called "product managers" which are mis-guided and illustrate a clear failure to deliver what their company actually needs and probably expected.

Firms with these "pseudo product managers" regularly suffer from the following (and regular) complaints from their product management:

1. We don't have enough resources to deliver a competitive product.
2. We must deliver these hundreds of hundreds of features to have a product people will buy.
3. I have designed the system architecture to deliver the product needs.
4. Look at all my beautiful wireframes, no you can't change it.
5. Great idea, I will add it to the (already freaking enormous) backlog.
6. We are going with this design because I like this design better. (Just emotive ownership)
7. No customer has ever asked for that feature we don't need it - it's not a priority.
8. That innovative idea is great, we cannot consider it for years, first we need all these features the competitor already has.

So what's wrong with these statements? Maybe you have said them. I know I am guilty of using the "I will add to the backlog" as an excuse to not have bother telling the passionate creator their idea sucks, has nothing to do with our value proposition and sounds quite possibly like we would need the R&D budget of NASA (before NASA was cut) to achieve it. Please note, I have not used that excuse for years, I have learned what a waste it is to have a creative employee not on thinking on strategy! 

These 8 "broken record" product complaints illustrate that the product manager is not managing the product! I plan to write a bit more around this topic mainly due to frustration from product consulting that opened my eyes to how much better product management could be in so many companies.

Here is my perception of a true product manager...

The most importantly the product manager is responsible for managing the value the product delivers to the customer and the company, while maximising the resources available.

Product managers are not responsible for "how" it is implemented, if they were there would be no point in hiring talent such as engineers, designers, UX architects or project mngs / scrum masters or VP of engineering. At the same time they must appreciate the how and the technical strategy / capability of the company.

A great product manager gives a lot of responsibility to those who are going to deliver the product, which sometimes is mistaken for flexibility in the wrong culture. There is no point being stubborn around low level detail unless that low level detail really impacts the core value - the more fluid and collaborative approach with engineering / design allows for those who are responsible for "how" to be efficient. All companies are stretched for resource so efficiency is your friend.

Great product managers identify clear customer value proposition and communicate it company wide through various channels. Inspiring those around them they drive innovation to deliver the core value proposition in a smarter and simpler way than any customer or competitor could ever imagined.

They learn which features are must have to be competitive (it won't be all the competitions feature set). They refer constantly to the core value to keep the product on strategy instead of letting it go off track on a "me to" feature frenzy.

The best product managers understand it is not there job to dream up every concept, they encourage input and ensure credit is always given to the originator. They don't want credit for ideas, nor do they need it they are product manager - they get credit when the product demand is in a state of high growth and customers are loving it.

Awesome product managers are more obsessed with metrics and listen to customers to validate market fit than they are with drawing reams of wireframes. Many product people seem to really want to be designers. They probably should be! Product people need to be balancing what features get built vs resource vs competition vs go to market demands vs sales vs p&l vs comms vs change. This role is not for the feint hearted and the very best have little time to be tweaking wireframes! This does not exclude the wireframe as a communication medium or collaboration medium for the product manager but it is only one tool in the toolbox! 

The product manager may not lead sales or marketing spend but they are directly responsible for company revenue (assuming it's a product you sell). The p&l contribution of their product lines should be a major factor in their role.

Product managers need to be in touch with 360 degrees of their product. They need to forecast and anticipate where their efforts will be needed and proactively deliver! Being reactive is too late! If a new release is in dev then they must communicate to marketing, they must evangelise the customers benefits to sales, they must influence who writes what in the press.

The individual must make use of every communication medium possible and be able to excite board members as much as customer service reps.

Still think your role is product manager?


AuthorDave Martin